CBL: Tell our readers why you have become a Realist painter?
SM: Realist painting is objective and is a common language to convey people's emotions, so I think Realist painting appeals to someone's instinct directly. I chose Realist painting to use the fruit of my basic studies, and have made efforts step by step for a long time. At first, we start to watch. If we watch natural scense, flowers, fruits, and people closely to paint them, we can find there is a mysterious and unknown world that approaches God. There is always more to learn.
CBL: How is the situation of Realist painting in Japanese art? Is it still marginalized? Last week I went to three exhibitions at major public museums of Japanese contemporary artists. Of course, none of them were Realists. They were Ay-O, Atsuko Tanaka, and Hiroji Noda. What do you think about the dominance of non-Realist art in public museums? Do you sometimes get angry about the apparent bias?
SM: When I see the regular exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, most of them are contemporary art, such as abstract painting or semi abstraction. Few of them are realist paintings. They said to me, "If you do not paint abstract, you are not a man" at the height of abstract art about 50 years ago. At that time, almost all tentative expression and style was running out. Young people who have not experienced such days, feel abstract art is attractive as a new challenge. But for me, I've watched a lot of abstract painting, so that for me it seems old, as if it is the same as 50 years ago when I first saw it. Does history repeats itself?
CBL: Who are the artists who have influenced and inspired you?
SM: Vermeer, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and Andrew Wyeth.
CBL: You are best known for your paintings of the female form and nudes. What is the attraction of the female form to you, apart from the attractions it has for any healthy heterosexual male?
SM: I've never felt attracted to a man, but I've felt attracted to women many, many times. Only when I feel she is the most beautiful, I get motivated and I can paint Realist paintings. When I face off against the beauty, I want to give her lots of attention. And I pay attention to detail. I build up one line or stroke and this leads to building up the impression and makes the expression of Realist painting as a result.
CBL: Realist oil painting is considered a very European style of art. The tonal qualities in particular are very different from anything in indigenous Japanese art. This has led some scholars to speculate that there may even be some differences between the way in which the European and East Asian eye perceives light. Light in Western Europe is more diffuse because of the clouds, mist, and the angle of the sun (it is much further North), while Japanese light is characteristically bright and intense, so that bright colours are more important than tones. What do you as a Japanese painter working in a tonally-rich Western Realist style think about these points?
SM: I've never thought about the difference of light between West and East. I don't think such differences affect the picture plane.
CBL: How important is it for Realist art to have someone like Mr. Hoki who collects realist art and creates a museum like the Hoki Museum?
SM: In every age, there will be always a few realist painters and their supporters. Realist painters need a lot of time to paint, so that they cannot paint many artworks. This causes Realist painters to be minor. But thanks to the Hoki museum, I'm sure that Realist painters have got to receive attention and this museum draws in the numbers and shows the fun of realist painting, and also draws in young Realist painters and infuses them with energy.
CBL: How do you feel about showing your art, which is very traditional, in such a futuristic building as the Hoki? What do you like about the building? What are its good points?
SM: I’ve never seen such a futuristic museum as the Hoki museum, but it seems to me that the building matches up so well with the new Realist paintings, which are created by the artists today, when realist paintings are exhibited.
CBL: At the exhibition you are showing a painting called The Future. Could you tell our readers a little bit about the story of that painting, such as its origins and meaning?
SM: I had started to paint this artwork, but had not decided the title when we were struck by the strong earthquake on March 11. My atelier suffered damage and two paintings in progress fell down. One was broken and torn. Another one fell down on the palette, and oil paint adhered to the canvas, but I could wipe it with a cloth and it was OK. I gave a title to this painting, thinking of it as a "survivor painting" and the disaster area.
CBL: How do you work with your models? Do they pose for long periods or do you use photography? How about when you paint nudes? Does that create any special difficulties? I am thinking the models must feel very self-conscious. How do you deal with that?
SM: I always deal with models sacredly. I trust that I've never caused a model to feel self-conscious. I take photos of the wrinkles in her clothes to remember the detail exactly, because the wrinkles change whenever she moves. Every artist's target is to paint works of high artistic value. I think it is OK to use any means to achieve that goal. The point for the artist is to paint a good one.
CBL: Have you used foreign models?
SM: I've never painted foreign models. I feel attracted to Japanese women, so I feel no need to, at the moment.